The original “24” was never intended to be sensitive entertainment. Kiefer Sutherland’s long-running Fox drama series didn’t aim to set an example for peace-seeking American audiences — not during a time of war. Rather, it served as wish fulfillment for fans deathly afraid of overseas terrorists crossing our borders and attacking our homes. Given its era, the extreme tactics employed by Jack Bauer to protect us were understandable. It’s what America wanted, and, on some level, what we needed: a hero to save us.
This is not the case for “24: Legacy,” a reboot of the ticking-clock action franchise we might want (if only for those ‘member berries) but do not need. Here we have a new special agent running the show, ready to protect us from a fresh batch of “others.” However, the original premiered just two months removed from 9/11; this “24” debuts as America copes with a new president who has just banned admission from seven countries that practice the Muslim faith.
On a progressive note, it’s fitting that “Straight Outta Compton” star Corey Hawkins has taken over hero duties for Sutherland. As Eric Carter, an ex-Army Ranger trying to adjust to civilian life, Hawkins does what he can with a cliched character given little room to distinguish himself. However, it’s not the acting that drags down “24: Legacy.” Miranda Otto seems excited to be on the right side of things after playing bad so very well on “Homeland,” while Jimmy Smits is as charmingly earnest as ever. The two play a D.C. power couple: She’s the former national director of the CTU (Counter Terrorism Unit, for those new to “24”), and he’s a United States Senator preparing to make a run for the White House.
Yet despite the diverse casting up front, the “Legacy” attitude toward national security remains focused on Bad Brown People, with nationalities as vague as the characters. In the opening frames, we linger over a destroyed home, cutting between images of destruction, blood on the walls, and finally settling on a man tied up in a chair, held hostage as people rummage through his belongings. He’s been badly beaten. His wife is dead on the floor next to him. His attacker makes no demands. He simply points a gun at his head, mutters, “This is for Sheik Bin-Khalid,” and pulls the trigger.
Later, we learn why he was there and what he was looking for, but what matters in this real-time story is always what comes next: The same group of assassins are coming for Carter — and his wife. A shootout ensues in his home, as is prone to happen on “24,” and Nicole (Anna Diop) saves her husband (hell, yes!) before she’s sidelined for the next three episodes (damn it!). All the assailants are largely unidentified, brown-skinned Muslims, pledging allegiance to a pair of brothers out for vengeance. Who they’re aiming to off (and have already killed) is a reveal we’ll leave unspoiled, but needless to say it only furthers the ya-ya-Americana pushed in the wrong direction throughout the three less-than-tense initial hours.
“24: Legacy” didn’t know what kind of world in which it would debut, but these were scripting mistakes in any political climate. Muslims and immigrants in general are made out to be the enemy, while home-grown Americans stand as our only hope for a safe future. The Muslim ban may intensify discussion over the show’s politics, but other long-in-the-works projects — based in fact — have pointed out the backwardthinking of these beliefs. There’s even an opportunity for the show to touch on domestic terrorism and its threat to the country, but they instead turn that character into an immigrant — a foreigner; another “other” who’s manipulating a poor lovestruck American sap. Of course, she’s later exposed by a white kid following the “if you see something, say something” policy, further enforcing the idea we should be afraid of all outsiders.
If the story was half as compelling as an average “Homeland” season, perhaps audiences could overlook the political commentary. But there’s little urgency driving the conventional TV action, and its stars’ personalities are largely drowned out by exposition. If anyone were to take the Fox reboot seriously, they might come to the conclusion “24: Legacy” is promoting a lie propagated by our president, that our greatest fear is the “other,” not ourselves. But as recent events have made clear, we have more to fear from a legacy of lies than from “them.”
“24: Legacy” premieres Sunday, February 5 after the Super Bowl, and Fox will air its second episode Monday, February 6, at 8 p.m.